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Friday Morning Music Club

Relatively few people today know that Washington's Friday Morning Music Club helped establish the National Symphony Orchestra in the years before World War II, contributed to the development of the Washington Performing Arts Society and has supported many other area cultural organizations. The club started 120 years ago as a group of 15 women playing together on Friday mornings in the members' drawing rooms. By the 1940s, the FMMC Orchestra was launched as a string ensemble giving women an outlet for performing. (Until a few decades ago, female string players were rarely members of symphony orchestras; until the 20th century, in fact, it was generally deemed "improper" in most quarters of society for women to play string instruments publicly, if at all.)

On Friday, the coed string players of the FMMC Orchestra offered a free noontime concert of music by Arcangelo Corelli, Edvard Grieg, Wayne Barlow, Giacomo Puccini and Johannes Brahms. Playing at the Sumner School Museum, the musicians opened with Corelli's Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7, a five-movement work for a small solo ensemble pitted against the full orchestra -- a genre virtually invented by this Italian baroque composer. Led by conductor Pablo Saelzer, Friday's performance was spirited in temperament, buoyed by energetic flourishes of sound that highlighted the music's tonal sweetness and busy contrapuntal textures.

Grieg's "Two Elegiac Melodies," Op. 34, followed, with Saelzer concentrating on its nostalgic compassion and folk-like tunefulness. The young oboist Joshua Arvizu soloed in Barlow's rhapsodic "The Winter's Passed." Arvizu has a generous, finely nuanced tone, beautifully rounded sustained notes and a warm vibrato -- all these qualities nicely supported by the orchestra. After a reading of Puccini's "I Crisantemi," a meaningless essay best left on the shelf, the program concluded with some of Brahms's "Liebeslieder Walzer." Saelzer was sensitively attuned to the many contrasting emotional inflections and rubato freedom of the music's rhythmic landscape.

-- Cecelia Porter

Robert Mann and Friends

There was a time when violinist Robert Mann and his Juilliard String Quartet colleagues roared through the repertoire, taking on Beethoven and Bartok and the rest with a fearless abandon that sometimes left debris in their tracks but much more often an aura of exhilaration and delight. But these days the Robert Mann who is now in his mid-80s -- and who, on Friday, was back at the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium -- is taking his pleasures in quieter and more contemplative musical explorations.

With his "Friends" violinist David Fulmer, violist (and son) Nicholas Mann and splendid cellist Bonnie Hampton -- he led the way through a quiet but deeply felt reading of the last of Bartok's six string quartets. This is the most tranquil of the six, the one in which Bartok seems most trusting of his own lyrical powers, and the performance, focused and intense as it was, seemed leisurely and thoughtful.

Mann, whose other activities over the years have included conducting and composing, began the evening with two movements from his own 1951 Five Movements for String Quartet. The opening, titled "Suspended," in its quiet layers of sound and relaxed silences, was a splendid introduction to what the rest of the program had to offer, and the "Violent" movement gave notice that a fire of risk still burns in Mann's belly.

Violist Hsin-Yun Huang joined the ensemble for a well-balanced, unemotional and easygoing performance of Mozart's very complicated and harmonically adventurous String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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